Saints alive! Wales win Triple Crown

Do the big things ... "St David gave sight to the blind, sprung a spring in a drought and raised the ground beneath him so the faithful could see him preach. But a few short weeks ago even greater miracles were deemed necessary for Wales to make an impact on this year's Six Nations Rugby Championship..." Award winning journalist and columnist Carolyn Hitt kicks off her column in the Western Mail in celebration of Wales winning rugby's Six Nations Triple Crown against all the odds (beating Ireland, Scotland and England), and crucially securing the Crown against England, the 'Old Enemy', arguably a top draw miracle.

However, still a couple of games to play to put Wales within touching distance of the Grand Slam (Italy first, with a sparkling France lying in ambush out in Paris at the final hurdle}.

Yes, the gods were definitely with Wales along the route to the Triple Crown, so no wonder England head coach Eddie Jones looked exceedingly confused and glum as Saturday's game dramatically unfolded in Wales' favour.

Whatever, allow me to take you back a couple of years...

Sunday, 24th February 2019: England, clear favourites, and Eddie Jones' side suffer an unexpected 21-13 defeat to Wales at the Principality Stadium the day before, so Eddie decides to take a morning walk through Cardiff to clear his muddled head. Strolling through one of the arcades he passes a gift shop and notices in the window a human skull. Intrigued, he enters the shop: "Whose skull is that?"

"That," says the shop owner proudly, "is the skull of St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, which is why we have a price tag of 10,000 quid on it."

Eddie has a quick ponder, and decides he would rather clip the skull of a dead Welsh Saint than those of his players who admittedly performed so abysmally the day before - and he'd be able to claim it on expenses anyway, putting it down as a management tool, the rugby equivalent of a dildo. "I'll take it."

Fast forward two years...

Sunday, 28th February 2021: England, clear favourites, and Eddie Jones' side suffer an unexpected 40-24 defeat to Wales at the Principality Stadium the day before, so Eddie decides to take a morning walk through Cardiff to clear his muddled head. Strolling through one of the arcades, he passes the very same gift shop from two years previous - and notices in the window another human skull, but this time a much smaller one.

With the pandemic meaning the place was shut, he calls the number displayed on the shop front and asks the owner about the skull: "That," says the owner rather proudly, "is the skull of St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, cheap at 5,000 quid."

"Hang about," says Eddie, "two years ago you sold me the skull of St David."

"Ah, but this is the skull of St David when he was a boy."

Pause for thought: While the ghost of St David undoubtedly helped Wales win the Triple Crown - "Do the big things" - his actual advice back in the day to his followers was to "Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things".

Top drawer advice. Count me in.
St David's Day, 2021


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
St David!
St David who?
[Sigh]: Fifteen-hundred years
- how quickly you forget!

But you
're a day early - tomorrow is St David's Day. Today we're still celebrating the defeat of England at rugby and winning the Triple Crown - so see you Monday. And don't forget: social distancing, wear a mask - and first wash your hands while singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, or Delilah, whichever comes naturally.



One final hurrah for Captain Tom

The last word ... "March in, march out, move on!" Captain Sir Tom Moore's final instructions for his funeral, which took place today, six words that sum up his 100-year walk through time better than any state funeral, as many wanted, or indeed a statue.

Sir Tom will best be remembered as a symbol of resilience in a pandemic. The private funeral ceremony at Bedford Crematorium was restricted to eight family members, but still bore the hallmarks of a national occasion, with a flypast by a Second World War C-47 Dakota aircraft, bell-ringing in churches across the country, his coffin carried by six members of the Yorkshire Regiment, whose predecessor he served with during the Second World War, and an honour guard of 14 soldiers fired a three-volley gun salute. Then a bugler sounded the Last Post.

Oh, and the Queen paid tribute to the war veteran by sending a wreath of 100 white roses, to be laid at the Sir Tom Moore memorial plaque in Keighley, West Yorkshire, where the centenarian was born. An elegant, classy touch.

Captain Sir Tom was working on a book before he died, in which he wrote that he would "like to watch my own funeral from a distance" and chuckle at "everyone making a lot of fuss over me". He requested the song My Way be played, loving the line about having "too few regrets to mention". It's an epitaph to envy.

I guess another Sinatra classic would also have been appropriate, It Was A Very Good Year, especially the last few lines: "But now the days are short, I'm in the autumn of the year, and now I think of life as vintage wine from fine old kegs. From the brim to the dregs, it poured sweet and clear. It was a very good year."

His daughter Hannah added: "We will follow Captain Tom's wishes by enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake." Ah, Victoria, a period marked by sweeping progress and ingenuity. How fitting.


Reasons to be cheerful - 3

Spending a penny in the desert ... "An ibex doing what ibex do when confronted by a helicopter hovering in front of them." Carlton Kirby, commentating for Eurosport on the 2021 UAE Tour, a road cycling race taking place in the United Arab Emirates, as a helicopter camera picks out a couple of Nubian Ibex minding their own business and strolling casually across the desert in its direction - and suddenly one spots the helicopter, stops, arches its back and has a pee while staring nonchalantly up at the chopper.

It was a highly amusing sequence, with Carlton Kirby adding a perfectly witty and precise observation.

I say perfect because I've noticed when walking the countryside and I encounter sheep, and being domesticated they are not inclined to bolt, but if I wander too close to an individual sheep it will nearly always stop, arch its back and have a quick pee - as Mrs Sheep here...

A sheep spends a penny to mark its territory and signal "Close enough!"

I guess it has everything to do with scent marking, also known as territorial markings or spraying when this involves urination, and used by animals to identify their territory. As happened above with the sheep: "That's close enough, sunshine, this is my patch!"

As indeed the ibex was doing with the helicopter, simply an innate reaction to something invading its patch, even from the air.

Incidentally, I like how the lamb, above, with that distinctive patch on its backside, watches proceedings: "Oh mum, must you always embarrass me like this in front of strangers?"

All very cheery, on both ibex and sheep fronts.


Reasons to be cheerful - 2

Exhausted in Rio ... "A 5-star advertising fail turns heads and makes people stand and stare for all the wrong reasons..." A clickbait did indeed make me, er, stand and stare and smile.

The advertising agency did not take into account the exhaust outlet of the bus while designing their advert:

The girl from Ipanema goes "Ah!"

"That's how my one-armed mum would lift
me out of the bath when I was a child!"

And, a bonus reason to be cheerful:

"I found so much animal print I thought I was on safari." Kimberly Stewart, 41, after rifling through rocker dad Rod, 76, and his Palm Beach wardrobe.

Hold that tiger and his exhaust!


Perseverance a day helps you work, rest and play

I spy with many little eyes ... "It's so American to call it 'Perseverance'. In the UK we'd call it 'Attempt'." Comedian Dave Chawner as NASA's latest probe searching for life on Mars lands and goes walkies.

Or more correctly, as NASA calls it, "Perseverance Rover", hence going walkies. Oh, and nicknamed "Percy".

In Wales we'd call the Mars Rover "Dyfal Donc", as in the Welsh proverb "Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg", translating literally as "Tapping persistently breaks the stone", or more familiarly, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again". Yes, perseverance pays in the end.

"Tapping persistently breaks the stone" is particularly apt because this Mars mission is to seek signs of ancient life and to drill and scoop up samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth. As NASA might say: "Fetch, Rover!"

At least there won't be knotted poop bags littering the Martian surface.

Incidentally, and apropos "I spy with many little eyes", Perseverance carries some 20 cameras, all beaming pictures back to base. Impressive.

As to why NASA nicknamed Perseverance "Percy", I know not. Whenever I hear the name Percy I am reminded of the old throwaway line "Must go and point Percy at the porcelain" - the porcelain is the lavatory bowl and Percy is the penis - so I suppose "Percy cocks a screw at the rock" has a certain Martian feel about it.


When a quick jab becomes an uppercut

Quote of the week ... "So I'm not getting a vaccine next week - was feeling weird about why I'd been selected ahead of others so rang my doctor to check. Turns out they had my height as 6.2cm rather than 6ft 2in, giving me a BMI of 28,000." Liam Thorp solves the mystery of why he had jumped a very long queue and been offered a Covid jab at age 32. Oh, and relief that he hadn't found himself washed up on the shores of Lilliput. Or was it Brobdingnag?

Whatever, a quick check online confirms that his Body Mass Index (BMI) should ideally be somewhere between 23 and 25. Now you would have thought that a computer would have been programmed with an algorithm to throw up something weird like a BMI of 28,000. And on that score...

Thar she blows! ... "Liam Thorp is not alone (Viral hilarity as computer says yes to jab for 'very obese 6cm tall man', 19 February). My daughter was also unexpectedly offered a jab, then discovered she was recorded as having a height of 1.7cm. She decided her BMI made her weight the equivalent of five blue whales." Deirdre Burrell of Mortimer, Berkshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

I sense a double whammy there: her height was perhaps recorded as 5.7cm instead of 5ft 7in, and the 5.7cm somehow morphed into 1.7cm.

Yep, it all adds to the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade.


Whither the weather on a wickedly wet weekend in Wales
'The power of an awe walk - 6')

"However, it won't be miserable everywhere and some of you will enjoy a little sunshine over the weekend." Hence a variation on the theme of a favoured line by BBC Wales' senior weather wizard Derek Brockway when delivering the forecast on a Friday evening with a rotten weather weekend on the cards.

Derek, of course, is right, because however fraught the forecast, corners of Wales will escape. Nevertheless, 9 o'clock last Friday night, with the country halfway through a two-day rain storm, I happened to be watching Welsh language channel S4C's forecast for the weekend and the forecaster mentioned in passing that it was raining over all the land mass of Wales.

Intrigued, I went online and checked MeteoGroup's rainfall radar, one I regularly visit when the weather is iffy and I need to know how to dress for my early-morning walk ... I was greeted by one of the most astonishing weather images I have ever seen...

Raining leaks and leeks all over Wales

Every corner of Wales swamped by the mother of all rain storms

Rain was indeed pouring all over Wales, as if the rainfall radar image had been traced over a map of the country.

I have juxtaposed it with a brace of images I took some years ago at Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, of the outline of Wales magically formed in the branches of a horse chestnut tree - which I featured back in March 2020 under Treewatch.

Wales' very own impressive family tree

From the candelabra-style flowers of spring ...
... to the autumn tints of a Towy Valley sunrise

Enjoy some captured moments of pure awe.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Yep, back in its rightful place after last week's seduction, compliments of a St Valentine's Day quickie...

Who's there?
HRH H&M who?
Harry & Meghan, silly!
Harry & Meghan Silly who?
[Sigh]: Honestly, how quickly you lot forgot all about us once we discreetly stepped out of the limelight

Seriously though, and given that I no longer follow the news (for the good of my own health), has anyone heard anything how this charming couple are settling into the quiet life?


Letters from Middle-Britain - 19

Oh thy chaste chest ... "My name is Ann. I am a woman and a mother. I have breasts. Is it now illegal to say this?" Ann Hooper of Kirby-le-Soken, Essex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust objects to "biological essentialism" in childbirth and has decided that the term breastfeeding must be replaced by "chestfeeding" so as to be more trans-friendly when caring for those experiencing the joy of parenthood.

To say that the sky fell on the Trust's head, and from a great height, is an understatement. Trust me.

Meaning of life ... "If even the facts of life are deemed to be transphobic, then perhaps transphobia has lost all meaning." Debbie Hayton, a transgender individual, in a Twitter message and letter to The Times.

Double jointed ... "I read with some bewilderment the linguistic contortions proposed by the Brighton and Sussex University Trust, described as 'gender inclusion midwives'. What term do they propose to replace 'midwives'?" Tim Turvey of Manchester, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Hm, "midpersons", perhaps? Incidentally, I learn that the word "midwife" is derived from the Old English "with woman", and that use of the term is protected in law. Every day a day at school.

Pier pressure ... "Chestfeeding in Brighton? They've got a front." C North of Sevenoaks, Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Yes, the conveyor belt of humour was well fired up...

Hunger pains ... "Chestfeeding in this household is to delve into the chest freezer and see what's on offer." Lyndi d'Ambrumenil of Zeals, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Wishbone ... "I'm having chest of chicken for dinner." Bill Davis of Biggin Hill, Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Suits you sir! ... "I fear that I must now make a clean chest of the fact that I wear double-chested suits." David Sayers of Edzell, Angus, Scotland, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Yep, the second greatest truth is alive and well and active everywhere: whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.


Magic Stonehenge: Return to sender

Cowboy job ... "Typical Welsh building job. It's falling down and the roof has gone." With the London media having much fun at news that part of Stonehenge first stood for 400 years in Wales and we might want it back, the best comment, by a Dave Holley, appeared in the Western Mail's "Word on the web".

Yep, the gift of laughing at ourselves offers us a head start [see final paragraph].

Anyway, I have just caught up with the BBC's intriguing Stonehenge - The Lost Circle Revealed ... the magic and mystery of how the smaller two-to-five-ton bluestones that marked the circle's perimeter, before the prehistoric monument on Salisbury plain in southern England went all commercial with the giant 30-ton sarsens, had formed an earlier proto-Stonehenge in west Wales, at Waun Mawn [Welsh for 'peat moor'], in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, before being hauled all the way to Wiltshire, together with a migration of the local community.

Stone me!

The journey undertaken by the Waun Mawn bluestones to reach Stonehenge

Oh, and in particular how the stones were moved. A group of 30 13-year-old children were able to pull a purpose-built wooden sled carrying a smaller stone weighing just over a ton with surprising ease, even up a slight gradient. But dragging a henge of stones the weight of a modern farm tractor for 150 miles is a staggering feat. The BBC animation showed men and oxen pulling the sleds, but curiously no mention of horses.

The web informs me that horses had been domesticated, haltered and harnessed across northern Europe a thousand years before Stonehenge, so surely horses would have pulled the sleds (rather than wheeled carts because without firm roads and tracks the wheels would have easily become bogged down).

The enthusiastic head of investigations, Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of University College, London, concluded that the obvious route taken would be that of the modern A40, a major road running between Pembrokeshire and London, and surprisingly flat, except for the occasional nasty drag, as between Llandovery and Sennybridge.

I cross the busy A40 every day, usually on foot, so now, rather than hurrying across, I stop and wonder what my Neolithic ancestor would have made of the passing caravan of people and snaking sled train: "What are you folks up to?"

"We're suffering a bit of hiraeth [longing or nostalgia] for the place where we originally settled. And what with the weather down west being endlessly dodgy, and all of us desperate to hold a few festivals to generate a bit of hokey pokey and lots of hwyl [the Welsh version of an Irish craic] - well, we're on the move, taking our stage and stone circle with us. Want to join us?"

Hang on, my ancestor would have said, I'll get my backpack. The dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

Yes okay, it took 5,000 years for Glastonbury to get its act together, but who knows what wakes and wacky festivals unfolded over those five millennia.

Finally, columnist Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times insisted on having his default joke about the Welsh language and its mislaid vowels: "I dare say the Welsh will demand it [Stonehenge] back and rename it Ysgythyrch-y-Bont, or something."

"Something", Rod, equals Y Cylchdro Lledrithiau [The Magic Roundabout]. (I presume my ancestors were into magic mushrooms.) Happy days.



Confused thinking ... "Your columnist Luke Johnson (Business, last week) says highly qualified people do not write well, as 'they use long words when simple ones would do'. Two paragraphs later he states that 'millions of people feel discombobulated'. Perhaps he should take his own advice." George Mckeag of Portstewart, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in a letter to The Sunday Times.

Hm, 'discombobulated'? 'Confused and disconcerted', suggests an online dictionary. How about 'bewitched, bothered and bewildered'? Now that would make a wonderful title for a song.

Talking of words...

Zigzagging into view ... "For today's word of the week I offer you something Welsh, as in 'igam-ogam', which means 'zigzag' and doesn't get used enough." Columnist Ann Treneman, 65, American journalist now living in the UK, writing in The Times.

Yes, igam-ogam is a splendid word, indeed there's a shop in Llandeilo called Igam Ogam - see the top of this page apropos Huw and Smile.

Also, igam-ogam, fingers crossed, will be sort of relevant, um, tomorrow...


The power of an awe walk - 5

Nature notes ... "What raises the spirits like snowdrops? One of the few flowers that nearly everybody recognises, these winter blooms fill churchyards, spill out under hedgerows and travel across grass, filling January and February with their nodding, scented bells..." Thus the opening lines of an article in The Times by Jonathan Tulloch, one of its Nature Notes writers.

Each and every morning at around 06:45, downpours excepted, I set off on my walk into town, along a country lane, to arrive at the corner shop shortly after opening: I combine my daily exercise (some three-mile round trip), collect the morning papers, along with any bits and pieces to see me through the day.

Oh, and pick up the rubbish along the way if dawn has broken.

I say if dawn has broken ... in the deep mid-winter my walk is done in the dark. I never carry a light. It always astonishes how rapidly my eyes adjust to the dark, even when it's a full moon with blanket cloud cover. I can see enough of the road ahead, along with the outline of the hedges either side, to navigate safely. True, the ruts and apprentice potholes are invisible, but I know roughly where they are compliments of my daylight walks and navigate accordingly.

If a vehicle approaches, then its headlights allow me see where I can safely step on to the verge, or cross to the opposite side to keep well out of its way.

However, at this time of year, dawn is breaking, and as mentioned last year, I pick out little blobs of white in the hedgerows, which look like white plastic bags - but these white plastic bags are welcome drifts of snowdrops...

Drifts of snowdrops in the dark

Snowdrops raise our spirits and sense of wellbeing

There are loads of them along my walk. They are such a welcome sight, and as Jonathan Tulloch says, they really do raise the spirits. They are handsome, tough little flowers. And when winter gets tough, the tough snowdrop gets going.

Yep, every February morning walk is an awe walk.


The power of an awe walk - 4

How nature has given me solace in the dark times ... "As we waited for my mum's funeral on a grey January morning, a robin sang away at the top of a bare tree. The little bird's wistful song cut through the gloom and shed a ray of light on the crematorium's belt of commemoration..." Thus the opening lines of an article in today's Daily Express by John Ingham, its Environment Editor ("It felt like the redbreast's song was a farewell to my mum").

It took me back many moons to when I lived in the Towy Valley, when I regularly walked the Valley's farmland, and along the way befriended lots of wild songbirds (located far from properties and farms, so truly wild), including many a robin...

A robin and its mate come to say hello

♪♪♪: "You hum it, son, I'll join in..."

The above was captured in January 2010, on a snowy day in the Valley. Having managed to get many of the birds to take feed from hand, I decided to take a musical umbrella with me to see if I could capture some photos with a melodic theme - and clearly succeeded.

I liked the fact that the above robin had brought along its mate, which dutifully waited its turn. But which was the male, and which was the female? You decide!

Happy days.

PS: Pondering the paraphrased "You hum it, son, I'll join in", took me to YouTube and those funny PG Tips adverts: "Coo-eee, coo-eee Mr Shifter, light refreshment!" Yes, the A Shifter & Son Removals ad from yesteryear. The PG Tips ads are highly commended.

"Coo-eee, coo-eee Mrs Robin, light refreshment!" Definitely happy days.


I name this ship of grit...

"...Skid Vicious." The name of a gritter working around the clock to clear Scotland's snowy roads as the 'beast from the east' deposits its visiting card.

The entire fleet of Scotland's gritters and snowploughs carry eye-catching and witty names, here are some examples:

     Grit Expectations
     Spready Mercury
     For Your Ice Only
     BFG (Big Friendly Gritter)
     Yes Sir, Ice Can Boogie
     Ready Spready Go
     Sir Salter Scott

And I do like the cleverness of this:

     Gritter Thunberg

Also, I particularly enjoyed this suggestion from November 2020, when disgraced Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier, 60, hit the headlines when she made an 800-mile round trip from Glasgow to London on public transport after knowingly testing positive for coronavirus, and consequently having her Westminster whip withdrawn (perhaps she should have been given the whip). Anyway - ta-rah...

     Margrit Ferrier Super Spreader

Apart from the Margrit, I did appreciate the internal rhyme. Sadly though, the tag missed out on this year's roster and so escaped being mentioned in dispatches as Scotland battled the 'beast from the east'. Shame. But Margaret Ferrier, MP, would have been delighted.

Oh yes, reading over this post to hopefully sort out any mistakes, I read the headline 'I name this ship of grit' as 'I name this shit of grip', which is perhaps how Margaret Ferrier might read it.


St Valentine's Day

Alan Titchmarsh, 71, English gardener, novelist and broadcaster ... "So I said to the wife: 'This year, what with Covid and lockdown, St Valentine's will have to be drinks and a quiet dinner at home.' And she said: 'So what's different from previous years?'" As told by the man himself on his Classic FM radio show.

That generated a hearty chuckle - as did this recalled tale, as told by Tommy Docherty (1928-2020), commonly known as "The Doc", a Scottish football player and manager, and blessed with a fine turn of wit, about his time at Manchester United when he briefly managed the famous but troubled George Best (1946-2005), the Northern Irish footballer generally regarded as one of the best players in the history of the sport.

Docherty remarked that the problem with the mercurial footballer was that he kept going missing. Asked what he meant, Docherty said: "Miss America, Miss Canada, Miss Great Britain..."

Yep, love is all around at the butterfly ball.


It's St Valentine's Day Eve
(and love is in the air, er...)

Sue and be damned ... "A man in the UK has sued his pub landlady wife for opening his bank statements to check if he was having an affair, leaving her with a 54k court bill [2021]. A man in Algeria sued his wife one day after their wedding for 13K for fraud, trauma and 'psychological distress' after seeing her without make-up [2015]. And a man in China sued his wife for producing an ugly child after discovering her good looks were due to plastic surgery - and duly won 75k (2012)." Spotted in The Times, so it must be true! Indeed, a quick check online [with dates inserted] confirms that love is all around ... well, not quite.

Ah, the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, both writ large and writ legally, with men not coming out of it with distinction.

I did attempt to search what happened to the man in Algeria who saw his wife without make-up - did he win, and if so, how much was he awarded? - but without success (I guess he lost). What I did discover though was this online comment, presumably posted by a male of the species:

"Always take a woman swimming on one of your first dates: difficult to hide your true self in a bikini or a swimming costume when soaked to the skin - and if she refuses to get her face or hair wet, be very suspicious." Mind you, it was pointed out that there is available make-up that won't wash off in water.

And it was also mentioned in dispatches that the woman gets to see what is hiding underneath his trunks. A word of caution though: the water could be very cold, giving a false impression. Oh, and as barmaid Calamity Jane once announced down at The Crazy Horse: "Look chaps, it isn't the length of the barrel, but the power of the shot."

Amen and a-women. Oh, and it definitely is St Valentine's Day tomorrow...


"So, how are you?" ... "Oh, average-plus."

Friday, 05:43, BBC Radio 2
Vanessa Feltz: "It's time to Pause for Thought, and this morning we're doing so in the company of Steve Stockman, Minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast
- hello Steve, morning."
Steve: "Good morning to you."
Vanessa: "How are you?"
Steve: "I think, um, er - well, I'm not awake long enough to have worked that out yet."
Vanessa (laughs with gusto): "Don't give me that, c'mon, we've been broadcasting since four, we know how we are and we know how we've changed since four. We used to be one thing, now we're something else by the time we get to 05:44; listen, this is night time for us - so we're talking about the power of love today, Steve..."

Thus one of those amusing exchanges that lingers in the memory. Mind you, Steve himself obviously hadn't been broadcasting since four, he had just come on air, direct from his home in these lockdown days, I guess, so perfectly justified to have a think about it.

Anyway, the exchange highlights the pointlessness of the routine: "Hello, how are you?" ... "Fine, thanks, how are you?" ... "Okay, thank you." Especially so on radio shows involving phone-ins where listeners and presenters do the "How are you?" routine everlastingly and to death.

Me? I never ask how someone is, unless of course they're recovering from some illness or accident, or indeed not sounding or looking too clever in the flesh. If someone asks me how I am, my default response is "Oh, average-plus!", which always draws a smiley response and a dive into folk wondering aloud what average-minus, or indeed average-plus-plus, feels and looks like.

And we're into a smiley conversation about the huge benefits of being average.

It all adds to the joy of the passing parade. And folk tend to remember the exchange.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 18

Last orders ... "Scotland beat England at Twickenham for the first time since 1983 - and the pubs were shut. You couldn't make it up!" Graham Smith of Tamworth, Staffordshire, in a letter to The Sun.

That takes me back to the 31st of October 1972, when Llanelli Rugby Football Club beat the legendary and seemingly invincible New Zealand All Blacks at Stradey Park, Llanelli. And the most memorable headline that lingers, excepting Llanelli 9 New Zealand 3, was this: "The day the pubs ran dry!"

"But don't the pubs always run dry in Llanelli?" "Only on sunny days." Happy days, indeed. And talking of pubs...

Student tipples ... "Michael Sayer (letter, Feb 4) drank Krug 1959 Champagne and 'the fabled' Quinta do Noval 1931 Vintage Port in the Mitre, Oxford, in the late 1960s. By contrast, my undergraduate drinking education at the same time was my first pint of Newcastle Brown Ale 1966, in the Buffalo Head ('The Buff') in Durham. Far less impact on the student finances." Rowena Dean of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, in a letter to The Times.

Ah, my drinking education began with a pint of Buckley's Dark Mild Ale 1960, in the Refreshment Rooms ('The Refresh') in Llandeilo. Happy, if nervous, days - always the risk in those apprenticeship days of being caught drinking under age.

Last orders ... "'What makes a perfect pub?' asks your columnist Adrian Chiles (G2, 4 February). Easy. One that's open." Keith Hayton of Glasgow, in a letter to The Guardian.

Very good, Keith Hayton. But what does make a perfect pub? That's also easy. A perfect pub boasts a perfect landlord. Say someone like Michael Palin, "the nice one" in the Monty Python team, excepting of course when he sold John Cleese that dead parrot, but we'll forgive him that. A good landlord is one who is welcoming, friendly, amusing, generous and treats everyone the same.

However, at the other end of the agreeable scale, and mention of John Cleese - well now, a Basil Fawlty breed of landlord, someone who is forever in a bad mood, rude, crude and always hurling insults at everyone. But an endlessly entertaining landlord where every visit is an open-ended adventure. Indeed, if you are not thoroughly and regularly insulted by some comment hurled in your direction, you start to wonder what is wrong with you, in as much that you are not even worthy of being verbally abused.

So a particularly memorable innkeeper along my stroll through time was very much a Basil Fawlty figure. Oh, and the pub was always busy. The other agreeable mine host was very much a Michael Palin figure, except that he was a she, a delightfully affable landlady who treated everyone as a member of her family.

Definitely, definitely happy days. At both ends of the scale.


The power of an awe walk - 3

MATT cartoon ... A man is stuck up to his shoulders in a snowdrift, and standing over him is a Saint Bernard rescue dog with a barrel hung around its neck full with brandy to help resuscitate the traveller in distress - except the barrel doesn't have "BRANDY" written on it - but "HAND SANITISER". Spotted on the front page of The Daily Telegraph - and it duly tickled my funny bone.

Today, with much of the eastern and northern parts of Britain hiding under snow, I thought it time once again to revisit one of yesteryear's magical views of awe...

The power of an awe walk

Dinefwr Castle just about visible in a snowstorm

Dinefwr Castle captured from the Towy Valley floor while overtaken by a snowstorm back in January 2010.

I really like it, especially capturing those huge snowflakes floating down like down feathers.


Google says Gotcha!

9 February 2021 ... "It's Safer Internet Day. Learn how Google keeps your information secure." A link spotted at the bottom of Google's home page.

Hm, I feel the assurance is incomplete and should read as follows:
"It's Safer Internet Day. Learn how Google keeps your information secure, even if we do use it to enrich our own addiction to control freakery, ambition, greed and knowing how many toilet roll wipes a day you use."

Amen and a-women.


Dumb and Dumber?

Missing intellectuals ... "Columnist Iain Martin questions where all the great thinkers of our time are. The answer lies at the bottom of the next page, in 'The last word' column." Rob Hallows of Llanddulas, Conwy, North Wales, in a letter to The Times.

Yes, my eyes always land on that corner of The Times, which happens to lie adjacent to the final missive featured on the paper's letters page (a letter always worth a read if you're looking for something to inject a bit of joy into proceedings).

However, 'The last word', apart from being a reminder of the great quotations hanging out there in the ether(net), the quote featured invariably has some relevance to a news item of the day.

After reading the above Rob Hallows letter, my eyes dart down...

The last word ... "People can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents." James Baldwin (1924-1987), American writer and activist, in his novel Giovanni's Room (1956).

I have probably mentioned this before, but it's a standing joke within the family that I count myself lucky, in as much that I happily chose the right parents.

Whatever, and as a matter of interest, I had a look back to see what quotation was featured on the day of Iain Martin's article:

The last word ... "If your abilities are only mediocre, modesty is mere honesty; but if you possess great talents, it is hypocrisy." Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher, in Essays and Aphorisms (but only published in 1970).

Well, along the second-half of my stroll through time I have come to understand and accept that I am probably the most average person in the whole wide world, in every sense of the word (excepting my height, which is average-plus).

Meaning, I am equally at home in both the snug bar and the spit-and-sawdust; meaning, I have an understanding of the point of view of both the fox and the hounds, of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, of Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer...

Being average is something I am perfectly happy with, so I guess my modesty is mere honesty.

However, also along the second-half of my stroll through time I have come to understand that I am blessed with the talent to precisely read strangers, on a traffic lights system, within the first 10 seconds of meeting them, an exceptional ability I am exceedingly chuffed with, which I guess excuses me being a hypocrite.

Incidentally, the answer to the question as to where all the great thinkers of our time are ... well, the brace of 'last words' featured above provide the answer: they are all dead.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Cows who?
No, cows go moo!

PS: Listen out for SOS-KKJ - SAVE OUR SILLY KNOCK-KNOCK JOKES - see last Sunday's brief discourse on the subject.


Pubic information film

Hair-raising ... "Woman reveals she is growing pubic hair out of the tip of finger after getting a skin graft from her bikini line as a child when her mother accidentally shut a door on her hand." Mackenzie Brown, who lives in Houston Texas, opened up about her distinctive finger on TikTok in a now-viral video which thus far has attracted 30 million views, and as reported in the Daily Mail.

Mackenzie Brown made the startling confession on TikTok while responding to another online user who asked people to share the "really weird things their bodies do".

Pubic information corner

Mackenzie Brown and her "coochie finger"

Following her accident as a two-year-old back in the 90s, and because of her young age, doctors decided not to use skin from her arm or leg out of fear that any scarring would expand as she got older, and instead chose to take the graft from the groin area - a common practice for hand injuries.

When she hit puberty she started growing hair on her finger: "When kids found that out in school they started calling me 'coochie finger'."

Coochie-coochie-coo, indeed.

A skin expert, Dr Sandra Lee, told Mackenzie that she was not unique in having a pubic finger, or a "coochie finger", before sharing finger-print images of one of her patients who had a similar graft on his thumb and was left with a "scrotal finger".

According to Dr Lee, hand injuries are often repaired using skin from the bikini line because genital tissue used as a graft to repair trauma that has occurred on the palmer surfaces of the hand is known to be particularly malleable, and therefore won't impair the patient's range of movement, or growth, in the years after the procedure. "This particular tissue we know to be more stretchy, more moveable, and we need that in this very hyper mobile area," she said.

It confirms how amazing the cells in our body are. Each cell has a copy of our DNA, and knows exactly what it's meant to do - and when - irrespective of where the cells happen to end up, whether by design or default, whether it be a coochie or a scrotal finger.

Mother Nature always knows best.

PS: Spellchecker moment ... the computer came to a stop at TikTok - and suggested Tiptoe, followed by Tiptop. Hm, tiptoe along the bikini line for a tiptop response.


♪♪♪: North is north and south is south...

...and the wrong one I have chose ... "Your claim that 'at least north is still north' (Terrawatch: the South Atlantic Anomaly - a growing weak spot in Earth's magnetic spot) sounds as reassuring as it is wrong. I've always taught my students that opposite poles attract. The north pole of a free magnate will point north. Therefore the earth's north pole must be a south pole. Historically, north has sometimes been north, but currently it is south. Oddly, my students found my teaching methods confusing." Matt Atkinson, CEO Lighthouse Learning Multi-Academy Trust, Southampton, in a letter to The Guardian.

Matt's students find his teaching confusing? Please, may I join the queue? However, his letter drew a brace of responses:

Blowing in the wind ... "I wonder if Matt Atkinson also teaches his students that the arrow on a weather vane points in the opposite direction to the direction of the wind." Richard Bull of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

A quick search informs me that, the pointed end offers least resistance to the wind, hence why the arrow is at the front of the vane, taking shelter, which sort of makes sense.

Travelling north ... "Matt Atkinson may have succeeded in confusing his students and Guardian readers, but could he now turn his attention to the following conundrum: if you travel north, you will eventually end up travelling south, yet if you travel west, you will always travel west." David Smith of Accra in Ghana.

Oh, east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet. However, north is north and south is south and always the twain shall meet.

It's a confusing old world out there, so best to keep my head down and just plough on.


The power of an awe walk - 2

Stand and stare ... "What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare?" The opening lines of Leisure by Welsh poet and writer William Henry Davies (1871-1940), the poem that generates the perfect signature rhythm to an awe walk.

Today, I revisit yesterday's magical view of awe...

The old - and the recently departed

Dinefwr Castle and the dearly departed OAO (old-age oak) in a wintry landscape

...yes, the world moves on, and the gnarled OAO (old-age oak) finally met its stormy fate head-on. By the by, the two images (yesterday's and today's), are separated by a couple of years. Yesterday's: 26/02/2004. Today's: 02/03/2006.

Awe by gosh by golly, you might well say.


The power of an awe walk - 1

Stand and stare ... "Look out for the power of an awe walk appearing soon, and not a million miles from this very spot..." Me, from just a couple of days ago (or "echdoe", as we say in Welsh, a neat little word for "the day before yesterday").

As mentioned "echdoe", new research suggests that consciously turning one's attention outward to something "bigger than oneself" during a 15-minute walk outdoors (at least once a week for eight weeks) cultivates a sense of awe - which tends to boost positive, prosocial emotions and reduce stress.

Well, it's something I've been doing for ages and ages, and along walks much, much longer than an Andy Warhol - i.e. 15-minutes - so I've been having a gentle wander and wonder through my picture gallery to remind me of the sights I've enjoyed down the years, compliments of the Towy Valley ... so I thought I would kick off the series with...

The old - and the even older

Dinefwr Castle and an OAO (old-age oak) in a wintry Towy Valley

Dinefwr Castle is first mentioned in dispatches in 1151. No date available for the tree.

What is this life if, full of care...



A quick jab to the deltoid

Thought for the day ... "The fact is: almost everything is funny. You just have to have a way of looking at it." Jerry Seinfeld, 66, American comedian and actor, from Stand-Up Confidential (1987 made-for-TV comedy special).

I like that. And it came to mind today as I navigated my Covid-19 vaccination at The Halliwell Centre in Carmarthen.

I was invited to participate at 16:25 (I also like it that I was "invited"), and remembering what my mother taught me, to always turn up at every appointment at least five minutes early - I join what seems like an endless queue at 16:20.

However, the column is moving quite briskly, and 45 minutes later, having done the 15-minute precautionary recovery period (necessary for the Pfizer but not the Oxford, apparently), I am on my way back to the car.

And I am endlessly impressed at the finely orchestrated chaos of it all (all the right notes, and all in the right order). But hang about, where's the humour?

Standing in the initial queue, my invitation letter is taken, and when it's returned I am also handed a vaccine card and a form that shows just my name, post code and date of birth. It's explained that the individual administering the vaccination will complete the form first. Given that communicating through a mask is not perfect, I have one of my personal cards ready.

So I get to the front of the queue ... and a trim and elegant looking blonde female, bedecked in blue, beckons. Ah, those were the days, my friend, I muse. As I follow her into the cubicle and we start to chat, her friendly demeanour and tone suggests that, in another time, in another place, perhaps a parallel universe, we might well have navigated the same highway to heaven.

Excepting the serious stuff, obviously, our conversation has a decidedly cheery ring to it. When she gets to the form, I place my personal calling card, so to speak, in front of her. "That's well prepared of you," she says.

Then we get to the vaccination, and I take off my coat. "Ah, that's handy, short sleeves." I explain I'd noted on the news that, while ladies invariable wear short sleeves and only have to roll up said sleeve, men have winter long-sleeves and need to remove their shirt or whatever, so I decide on short sleeves for my day trip to Halliwell.

After the vaccination, she looks at me and enquires: "Are you a teacher?" I chuckle. "No, actually I've never held any job you would label professional, although I like to think I conduct myself professionally - my mother taught me to work hard at not letting anyone down, so if ever I needed help people would spontaneously respond."

"Work wise," I add, "and don't tell anyone this: I've done a little bit of this, a little bit of that - but nowhere near enough of the other." And we part company on a laugh.

As I walk away, I should of course have explained: "I earned my degree from the university of life working as a barman, and learnt that it pays to be observant simply to stay one step ahead of the madding crowd, especially so when it starts to get drunk and disorderly."

Oh, and I never asked what her day job was. Anyway, I depart The Halliwell Centre admiring how well everything was run, especially so the helpfulness and good humour of all involved, and that despite the lateness of the afternoon and the endless flow of people of whom they would have had no idea who was the good, the OK, and the trouble with a capital T.

That said, during my visit, every patient, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed in good spirits and super-compliant, which helped move things along, much like that little ball bouncing along the top of the words of a singalong song.

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The power of being free

"Today, as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar." Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher, translated from Human, All Too Human (1878).

I like that. Mind you, today, and to avoid being called out for wokeism and cancelled for sexism, old Friedrich would have to rewrite it, something along these lines I guess:

"Today, as always, folk fall into two groups: slaves and free folk. Whoever does not have two-thirds of their day for themselves, is a slave, whatever he or she may be: a political leader, a captain of commerce, an official, or a scholar." [I was tempted to add "celebrity" to that list to bring it bang up to date. Whatever...]

Me? I've cruised down life's middle lane with, at the very least, two-thirds of the day to myself. Also, new research during this time of lockdown suggests that consciously turning one's attention outward to something "bigger than oneself" during a 15-minute walk outdoors (at least once a week for eight weeks) cultivates a sense of awe - which tends to boost positive, prosocial emotions and reduce stress.

Hm, I guess we are all up for that. To be honest though, I've been regularly doing walks in the country for years, often lasting a couple of hours, sometimes more, especially so along my own square mile's Towy Valley. Down the years I've also captured some marvellous images of things "bigger than myself", both literally and metaphorically.

I will have to dig out some images to remind me why I've spent my life cruising down life's middle lane.

Look out for the power of an awe walk appearing soon, and not a million miles from this very spot...

PS: Spellchecker moment ... the computer came to a stop at wokeism - and suggested tokenism, followed by wakes, followed by wonkiest. As mentioned previously, the old spellchecker never lets me down.


It's back ... Sunday is knock-knock day
(unless you're a millennial with a sense of fun deficiency)

Who's there?
Alex who?
Alex plain if you let me in...

Last Sunday I excused myself apropos my regular knock-knock routine because it was - ta-rah! - 'Belly laugh day', and that deserved a bit of a nod and a wink all of its own.

However, missing it must have been some sort of premonition because - well, let English writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, 72, explain (as spotted in The Daily Telegraph):

"I am a devotee of knock-knock jokes and I am down in the dumps today. A new survey has revealed that my favourite form of childhood joke is on the way out. The knock-knock joke it seems, has had its day.
     "According to the research, 20% of people under 30 have never even heard of knock-knock jokes, and the three-quarters of those who have think they are
'old-fashioned' and 'not funny'.
     "Knock-knock! Who's there? Boo! Boo who? Indeed."

Never fear, Gyles, I shall do my best to maintain the jest. Carry On Knock-Knock!

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